TGOC Bible Class Cirricula - How To Study The Bible - Lesson 10 - The Principle of The Consistency of Language
- The principle of consistency of the language of Scripture is important to understanding and interpreting the Scriptures correctly.
- This rule applies unless there is a good and compelling reason to take the word or expression as having a different meaning (which will be clarified below).
Definition of Terms
- The word “consistency” means: “standing in agreement; compatible, congruous; not contradictory or opposed; not out of harmony with other acts or professions of the same person.” (Webster, p. 181).
- Without this principle, a reader could never be certain of the meaning of any expression unless it was explicitly defined.
- The Scriptures would be unnecessarily long because it would require a definition of each word in each sentence.
- We understand and expect this when we read books written by men. Why would the same principle not hold true when we are reading a book written by the Creator of men? If we expect the writings of men to hold to consistency, then how much greater would we expect God (who is greater than men) to have consistency.
- One of the great examples to help understand this principle is to read the gospel of John, 1st John, 2nd John, and 3rd John. When you read the epistles of John, you will notice the consistency of language John uses in his gospel, “John.” For example, a person can understand what “love” (agape) is by consulting the lexicons of the original language as well as the context in which the word is found. In the gospel of John alone, the word “love” (agape) is found (in its noun form and verb form) about 50 times. John is carrying the same meaning over into his inspired epistles (1 John 2:5,10,15; 3:1,10,11,14,16,23; 4:7,8,9,10,11,16,17,18,19,20,21; 5:1-3; 2 John 1:1,3,5; 3 John 1:1,6,9).
Exceptions To This Principle
- When the word is used in a figurative sense. For example, the expression “the house” in 1 Timothy 3:15 is referring to the church as the temple of God. God called the temple in the old covenant His house in which He dwells. Under the new covenant, He dwells among His people, who are the true temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16,17). There are other times in the Scripture when a person can know the Scriptures are referring to a person's literal house (Simon the tanner's house – Acts 10:6).
- When the word is redefined by the inspired author. This means that the Scriptures themselves explicitly state that the words have a different meaning. For example, the words “Jew” and “circumcision” are redefined by Paul in Romans 2:28,29. We know that he is redefining these words because of the immediate context and the remote context. When he states the word “Jew”, he is talking about a person who has believed and obeyed the gospel who has now become a part of the true “Israel” of God – the church of Christ (Galatians 6:16). When he states the word “circumcision”, he is talking about a person who has believed and obeyed the gospel because it is in baptism that a person's sins are cut off by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:12,13). The remote context would reveal that this could not be referring to physical circumcision (Philippians 3:2-6).
- When it would pose a contradiction to interpret the meaning as consistent.Skeptics like to comb through the Bible and think they have found contradictions. Skeptics think they may have found a chronological contradiction this time. They claim the gospel writers and Paul cannot agree upon when the disciples became apostles. Did they become the apostles before the ascension of Jesus (which seems to be the case, Acts 1:9-11) or after the ascension of Jesus? The following passages call the disciples “apostles” before the ascension of Jesus: Matthew 10:2, Mark 6:30, Luke 6:13, 9:10, 11:49, 17:5, 22:14, 24:10, Acts 1:2, and 1:26 (except for Acts 1:26). Paul indicates in his letter to the Ephesians that the gift of apostleship was not given until after the ascension of Jesus (Ephesians 4:7-16). When we come to the study of the Bible, we must employ several hermeneutical principles (rules of interpretation) which help in rightly dividing God's Word. One of the common hermeneutical principles is that a text must be considered literally unless it poses a contradiction. It is then to be seen as figurative. If we were to look at Matthew 10:2, Mark 6:30, Luke 6:13, 9:10, 11:49, 17:5, 22:14, 24:10, Acts 1:2, we would see that they are using a common figure of speech called prolepsis [We will cover this figure of speech in a future lesson in more detail]. Dictionary.com defines "prolepsis" as: "the assigning of a person, event, etc., to a period earlier than the actual one; the representation of something in the future as if it already existed or had occurred." Let me demonstrate what that figure of speech means in an example. If I were in a conversation with you about how I met my wife, I might say to you, "I met my wife during college." Chronologically speaking, I went to college from August 2004 to May 2010. I did not marry my wife until after I had graduated from college in July 2010. Am I caught in a chronological contradiction? No. I am assigning my spouse to a period earlier (in college from 2004 to 2010) than the actual one (when I actually married her in July 2010). The Bible writers employ this figure of speech frequently throughout Scripture, such as Genesis 3:24 and 1 Peter 3:18-21. The gospel writers were assigning these disciples the title of apostles in their gospel accounts during the personal ministry of Jesus because they were looking at it from a futuristic standpoint, pointing to the future work these men were to perform in spreading the gospel to all the world.
- When it would be absurd to interpret the meaning as consistent.A great example of this is found in the word “cut”. In the gospel of Mark, the word “cut” is used in Mark 9:43,45; 11:8; 14:47. Chapter 9 is definitely using it in a figurative manner while chapters 11 and 14 are using it in a literal manner in that tree branches and an ear was literally cut off. In the remote context of Mark 9, Jesus is speaking on the theme of true discipleship among His followers. His followers had many wrong ideas about the Messianic kingdom and one of them was that they wanted to know who would gain the highest status in the kingdom. We see an example of this prideful behavior when the mother of James and John made a request for her sons to sit on Jesus' left and right hand when He started to reign on the throne (Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:32-40). Throughout Mark, Jesus is portrayed as the great Servant about whom Isaiah had prophesied. He is on a mission to complete the will of the Father by humble obedience and submission. Jesus knew that the way to the cross would be hard and it would also be hard for those who would become His followers. Jesus sets out to tell His disciples that the way that leads to life will not be easy. It will actually be narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:13,14). It is, however, well worth the journey (Hebrews 12:1,2). Jesus commands us to do what is necessary in order to be serious about our spirituality. Jesus uses a figure of speech known as hyperbole (an exaggeration) when He is talking about cutting out your right eye, cutting off your right foot, or cutting off your right hand. We know that Jesus is not being literal in those statements for the following reasons: (a) If it were the case that disciples did mutilate themselves, it would still not solve the sin problem, because a person could steal with his left hand, a person could sexually lust after someone with his left eye, and a person could conduct sinful behavior on his left foot. (b) Jesus talks about how we need to change from the inside (our evil thoughts, motives); our actions originate from the heart. It is the heart that must be transformed. (c) Jesus commands us to follow the first and greatest commands (Matthew 22:38-40) and His commandments do not conflict with any other commandments that He has given us. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Ephesians 5:22-33 speaks about how the husband does not hate his own flesh (body) but cares and nourishes it. We are to take care of our physical bodies. This is how we render love to ourselves. If we are to render love to our neighbor as ourselves, then we would not want to cut off any of their body parts or ours (unless it was absolutely necessary in the case of a medical emergency, requiring amputation)?
- When it would enjoin evil or prohibit good to interpret the meaning as consistent.In the context of 2 Corinthians 11:7-11, Paul is defending his apostleship against false accusations that have been made against him. Paul is concerned about this congregation because he fears that they may have been led astray by the false teachers who have influenced them. Paul goes into more detail in showing his love and concern in that he states that he “robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you” (2 Corinthians 11:8). Did Paul really steal from other churches in order to financially support himself with the church at Corinth? Was he literally breaking the commandment of stealing? No, Paul is using a figure of speech called a hyperbole, which is exaggerating something. Otherwise, this would have been a black mark that the church at Corinth could have placed upon Paul in stating that he was a robber!
Proof That The Language of Scripture Is Consistent
- The nature of God demonstrates that the language of Scripture is consistent. God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and Jesus does not change (Hebrews 13:8). Why should the Scriptures change?
- The nature of the Scriptures demonstrates that the language of the Scriptures is consistent. The Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). It is a sin to change the word of God (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19). This implies that the wording of the Scriptures is vital to understanding them. If the language is not consistent, then the wording is not important.
- The concept of verbal-plenary inspiration implies that the choice of words by the Holy Spirit conveys a particular thought (2 Timothy 3:16,17). The scriptures are inspired in words, grammar, and thought. Each word and grammatical construction have a definite meaning.
- The Scriptures are treated as one book (Hebrews 4:12). The Scriptures are usually referred to as “the word of God” rather than the “words of God.” Satan's words are usually referred to as the “words of Satan.”
- Jesus used this principle. He defined the meaning of the word “neighbor” in Luke 10:29-37 in the parable of the good Samaritan. This expression is not explicitly defined in any other passage of Scripture; therefore, it is either defined for all of the New Testament in this passage or one cannot know what it means anywhere except in Luke 10.
Applications Of This Principle
- What is the type of baptism meant in Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15,16, and Acts 2:38? Is it the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the baptism of fire, the water baptism of John, or water baptism in the name of Jesus?
- The baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38) is defined in Acts 10:47,48 as water baptism. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was a promise, not a command (Matthew 3:11; Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:4-8). Water baptism is a command that was issued by the authority of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; 22:16; Matthew 28:18-20). Paul states around 60-61 A.D. in Ephesians that there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4). A few years after the Ephesian letter, Peter writes a letter to the churches (who were located in what is now known as modern-day Turkey) and shows that water baptism was still presently saving in his day (1 Peter 3:20,21) - “baptism does now save (present tense.” Therefore, the one baptism of Ephesians is the baptism that presently saves in 1 Peter 3:20,21, which is water baptism in the name of Jesus.
- What is the purpose of water baptism? Is it to show that a person has already been saved because he was saved at the point of belief or is water baptism also required in order to be saved from sin? The principle is applied to this because in Mark 16:15,16, it states that a person must believe and be baptized in order to be saved. According to the conversion account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, this is a water baptism that followed belief. Was the eunuch saved at the point of belief or when he was baptized in water? According to the consistency of language, a person must believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:15,16). The Ethiopian eunuch was not saved until he was baptized in water where he came into contact with the blood of Jesus that washed away his past sins (Romans 6:3,4; Revelation 1:5; Colossians 2:11-12).
- What is the meaning of tongues that are spoken in Acts 2, Acts 10, and 1 Corinthians 12-14? Are they unintelligent, ecstatic utterances (as Pentecostals claim) or are they real human languages?
- Luke shows evidence that these were real, human languages. There are several indicators in the text. In Acts 2:4: "And they [the apostles (Acts 1:26)] were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Notice that the apostles already had a tongue before the Holy Spirit empowered them. They spoke Aramaic (a real human language) and Koine Greek (a real language used by some of them to write the New Testament). This corresponds in great parallel with Mark 16:17: "they will speak with new tongues."
- In Acts 2:6, the crowd to whom the apostles are speaking are confused "because everyone heard them speak in his own language." Notice that the word "language" (Greek word - dialektos [we get the English word "dialect" from this word]) is another synonym that Luke uses for the word "tongue". He uses them interchangeably throughout this context.
- In Acts 2:7, the crowd asked the question, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?" Why would they ask that question? Because Galilee was not particularly known as the seat of intellectualism; thus, these men would most likely not have been schooled and trained in the foreign languages they were miraculously speaking.
- In Acts 2:7, the crowd states: "And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?" Is it not the case that a person begins to learn a real human language when they come from the mother's womb? Yes.
- Notice the crowd understands what the apostles were speaking - "the wonderful works of God". When denominations speak in tongues (as they define them), you cannot understand what they are saying! This crowd knew that the apostles were communicating intelligible speech, not unintelligible speech.
- There is one other place that no doubt it is speaking of real human languages. In 1 Corinthians 14:21,22, Paul is quoting from the Old Testament in verse 21. It comes from Isaiah 28:11,12. In the remote context, Isaiah is dealing with the northern kingdom of Israel who was sinning against their Creator. God had used Isaiah as His mouthpiece, whom Israel could clearly understand because he spoke to them in the Hebrew language. Even though they heard the clear message in their own Hebrew language, they rejected it. God was going to judge the northern kingdom by sending them into Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C. Israel would not be hearing an understood language now, but would now hear a foreign language - the Akkadian language of the Assyrian invaders - "For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people". Akkadian was a real human language.
- Tongues were real human languages, not ecstatic utterances as some denominations claim.
- What is the identification of “the great city” in Revelation?
- Revelation was written in symbols that have a foundation in the Old Testament (Revelation 1:1-3). It is very interesting though that John keeps writing from these grand visions about “the great city” in Revelation 11:8; 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21. Please remember that there were no chapter divisions in Revelation until the 1200s A.D. What city is John identifying as “Babylon” and “the great harlot” across the visions of this revelation? The principle of the consistency of language helps us out here. John gives us a big hint that is found in Revelation 11:8. It is also where our Lord was crucified. Jesus was crucified outside of the city of Jerusalem, not Rome (as is most commonly alleged by commentators). John also has a glorious vision towards the end of the book where he sees the new Jerusalem and he calls it the great city (Revelation 21:10). Could it not be seen that John is making a contrast between the immoral, perverted city of Jerusalem that crucified the Son of God and the pure, God-chosen city where the faithful saints can dwell in an inaugurated sense (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22-24), but also in its consummated form throughout eternity (Revelation 21-22)?
- What is the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38? There have been various interpretations, but the principle will help us here to find out the true identity. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a miraculous endowment that was given to the early church to mature it (Ephesians 4:7-16) until such a time when the complete revelation of God was given in written form (2 Peter 1:3) and it would then cease sometime in the first century A.D. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). [Another understanding: just as city “of” Nashville means city “which is” Nashville, “gift of the Holy Spirit” could be referring to the non-miraculous gift “which is” the Holy Spirit, received by all who repent and are baptized, see Acts 5:32; Romans 8:9-11; Galatians 3:2-3. For the sake of this study, only the “miraculous” understanding will be applied.]
- First, this meaning respects the consistency of language that is used. Luke defines the same phrase "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 10:45-46 to indicate that it is the miraculous endowments given by the Holy Spirit in the first century A.D.
- Second, this view respects the remote historical context where Peter discusses the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Jews in the audience saw the miraculous phenomenon taking place where the apostles were preaching in languages that they had never studied before, Peter states that these events were being fulfilled as Joel had prophesied in Joel 2:28-32. Read Joel 2:28-32; it indicates that there would be young men, old men, women, slaves who would receive miraculous endowments from the Holy Spirit, which we know would be given via the laying on of the apostles' hands (compare Acts 8:14-21) after they became Christians. The promise that Peter refers to in Acts 2:39 is referring back to the promise of Joel. Notice that these miraculous endowments would be given to "you" - Jews who became Christians, "your children" - the Jewish children, and the Gentiles - "those who are afar off" who became Christians.
- Also notice the phrase "will call" is not referring to the gospel call (2 Thessalonians 2:14), but referring to a call to a special office. The original language is in the subjunctive mood, which is a mode of possibility. It ought to be translated, "may call." There is a possibility that some of these people who became Christians would be called to these special offices such as prophets (Acts 13:2). Every verse in Acts 2 (unless Acts 2:38 is the lone exception) associated with the Holy Spirit depicts miraculous activity (Acts 2:4, 11, 17-18, 33, 38, 43). Joel's prophecy, which Peter quoted, spoke only of the miraculous (Acts 2:17-18).
- Third, this meaning respects the wider context of the book of Acts. Luke mentions in Acts that where there is a "giving" and "receiving" of the Holy Spirit, it is always in relation to miraculous activity (Acts 8:14-18; Acts 19:1-7).
- What is “the creation” in Romans 8:18-25?
- Romans 8:18-25 states: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."
- Paul had already used the word "creation" (ktisis) earlier in his letter in reference to the created universe that God had made from the beginning: "For since the creation (ktisis) of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." Therefore, using the principle of the consistency of language, Paul is showing that this is in reference to the created universe.
- It cannot be referencing the church because Paul makes a distinction between the church (the sons of God) and the creation, which therefore cannot be referring to the church.
- The creation was subject to vanity - a historical allusion back to the very beginning of creation when it became corrupted because of a curse placed upon it (Genesis 3:15-17). Man was to labor harder for his food (which would now be obtained with difficulty, that is, with thorns and thistles) and woman was to bring forth children in pain (that is, her pain and conception would be multiplied).
- It cannot be referencing the church or mankind in general because the creation was made subject to vanity "not willingly". We know that those who came into the church (Acts 2:47) and mankind in general were/are sinners who sinned willingly. They had the choice to sin (1 John 3:4). Mankind bears the curse because of its own willful disobedience. The same cannot be said of "the creation" because it was not responsible for its terrible condition of corruption. Unlike man, it did not willingly disobey the commandments of God; but, it was God himself who made the choice to bring a curse upon it.
- There is a connection between the created universe and the Christians (the children of God) who live in that creation. Something will happen to the creation at the same time the children of God are rewarded with glory. The creation shall be delivered from the curse under which it has labored, just as Christians will be delivered from the bondage of corruption. We must recognize that the Bible harmonizes with itself. The Bible states in 2 Peter 3:10-13 that the earth and the works therein shall be burned up. It also states that the elements shall melt with a fervent heat. These statements must be made to harmonize with the saints being glorified and the creation being delivered from the bondage of corruption. This can only mean that our present physical, decaying bodies will have new, incorruptible transformed bodies given to them that are fit for the new dwelling place God will create and the present heavens and earth will be replaced with an incorruptible new (kainos - "new" in quality) heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Both Christians (as well as those redeemed under the other past dispensations) and the creation labor under the curse of corruption, which will be lifted at the final day of judgment. A glorious freedom is awaiting both in the future.
- What is “the body” that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 using this hermeneutical principle and the other principles that have been discussed thus far?
- What is “the body” that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 using this hermeneutical principle and the other principles that have been discussed thus far?
- What is the meaning of “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44? (Hint: You might want to look at the context of 1 Corinthians 2:4-16 to help you find the answer.)
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